I hate the feeling of being hungry. Hate it, hate it, hate it. For some reason, nothing bothers me more than that swirling, almost-painful feeling in your stomach, as you pray for food.
Maybe it’s the thought of constant hunger, no energy, and hair falling out that makes my chest tense up when I feel that churning spiral in my stomach. Those are the symptoms of eating disorders, one of which I was diagnosed with in 2013, but have been struggling with for years. I am now recovering, and working hard to beat my illness. The biggest misconception about people with eating disorders is that apparently we’re never hungry – well, that’s funny. Here’s the thing – when I had my eating disorder, I was always hungry. Subsisting on the amount of calories I gave my body was next to impossible. I was constantly thinking about food, food, and more food. Although it’s an experience that has shaped me and made me stronger, it’s not something I would wish on my worst enemy. Memories of the time I was the sickest are solely memories of hunger. So, my decision to recover stemmed, in one aspect, from another hunger related topic – the hunger epidemic in America.
About a month before I started the recovery process, I applied and was selected to coordinate a teen summit through BBYO, an international Jewish youth group that I am very proud to be a part of. The topic of this summit, which was held in November in Detroit, MI (shout out to the coldest place I have EVER been), was hunger. Ironic, right? Here I am, struggling with an eating disorder, and I’m picked to coordinate a three day summit about hunger? As in, I was supposed to lead seventy two hours of programming about people who do not have the resources to buy food, and I have an eating disorder? I was selected to fight hunger, the very thing that for so long, gave me a sense of control in my life? Laugh. Please, it’s okay. I did too. I didn’t really know how to handle this, so I did my best, planned educational programs, and tried to make an impact.
The weekend went off without a hitch (well, if you don’t count the torrential downpour when we toured UMich). Seventy-five teens from across the country performed numerous service hours at local food banks, took part in poverty simulations and hunger banquets, and had the opportunity to truly experience hunger in today’s world. I was truly touched by the number of people we helped, yet the whole time, my struggle was in the back of my mind.
My eating disorder and America’s hunger epidemic seem, on the surface, to be contradictory. Some say that those with eating disorders choose to be hungry, that it’s a voluntary decision. I won’t be the first to confirm that that’s not true – eating disorders are illnesses, and are never ever ever ever (let me repeat that – EVER) a choice. But does anyone say that those living in poverty choose to go hungry? No. We don’t, because we don’t blame the victim. But that’s not the issue here. The fact of the matter is, both groups of people are hungry. And you and I both know that hunger isn’t fun. It makes it hard to concentrate at school, difficult to hold conversations, and next to impossible to do any sort of physical activity.
So what am I getting at? Hunger is an issue in this country, yes. Between eating disorders and poverty, hunger affects millions. But what really matters here is how we choose to help. I chose to seek help for my own issues, and I chose to miss three days of junior year to participate in community service. This past fall has taught me that, at the end of the day, you have the power to save yourself. You. You. YOU. Get that into your head. Your best friend can feed you, your parents can give you money to fight poverty, but only you can change your life.
It took an eating disorder and a leadership summit about hunger for me to realize this, but from now on, I am in control. I hope you are too.